KABUL, Afghanistan — Relations between the U.S. military and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are being tested once again after he accused American troops of killing eight civilians, including seven children, during a military operation in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday.
According to Karzai and the governor of Parwan province, the incident occurred about 1 a.m. Wednesday when U.S. Special Forces attempted to enter a home. A gun battle ensued, resulting in a coalition airstrike that killed the children and a female relative in the house, they said.
In a statement, the U.S.-led coalition confirmed that an incident had occurred during a joint operation by Afghan and coalition forces in an area known for Taliban activity, some of it linked to the Haqqani network. Officials said the troops were fired upon "from two compounds" as they hunted militants wanted for recent attacks on Bagram air base, located north of Kabul.
The firefight that followed became so intense that the international troops requested airstrikes, coalition officials said. They said at least 10 insurgents were killed, but they also acknowledged receiving reports of two civilian deaths.
A coalition soldier also was killed, officials said.
The coalition "regrets that civilians were killed" during the operation, the statement said.
Although U.S. officials stressed that Afghan soldiers were in the lead during the operation, the incident further hinders efforts to resolve the impasse over the signing of a long-term security agreement between the two countries.
The bulk of U.S. and NATO troops are slated to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of the year, but the Obama administration hopes to keep a residual force in the country for counterterrorism missions and to help train the fledgling Afghan military.
In November, after months of negotiations, both sides finalized a draft of the security agreement that would allow up to 15,000 coalition troops to remain in Afghanistan for 10 years. That force could include 8,000 to 10,000 U.S. troops.
But Karzai has refused to sign the agreement.